Written By Dave Norman
Turks Play-by-Play Announcer
At 5’11” and 170 pounds, there wasn’t anything measurable about the Arizona freshman lefthander that reported to Harrisonburg in 2004. Turns out some summer league innings were the start to something big.
“I wasn’t pitching much at Arizona yet and Bob just trusted my coach, penciled me in every fifth day and let me pitch. I needed that. The summers with the Turks put me on the map and got me on track to being noticed. Without that, I’d probably have gone and been an engineer somewhere.” He said with a laugh.
Mills development in Harrisonburg and at Arizona was a steady climb up the draft board too.
2005 Turks All-Stars pictured; Brad Mills, Christopher Fessler, Brett Munster, Lucas Delong, Sean Jarrett, Eric Fussell , Jeff Carroll, and Coach Bob Wease
Brad is the rare pitcher that without a high-end fastball strikes out about one hitter per inning. “I just try to not fall into a pattern and need to be able to throw any pitch in any count.”
Mound presence and a ++ curveball were Mills calling cards that led to him being drafted in the 4th round in 2007. Mills made his way through the minors allowing well under a hit per inning and continuing to strike out hitters with an evolving mix of pitches. In 2009, under two years and five stops in the minor leagues, Mills took the mound in Toronto making his Major League debut.
It has been an up and down journey, quite literally for Brad as he has been to and from AAA and back to the big leagues six times with Toronto (two stints), Oakland and the Angels.
Mills even signed and played briefly with the Orix Buffaloes of the Japanese League but returned back to the states to the AAA level.
Mills has become famous/infamous as being traded from the Brewers organization to the Oakland A’s last season for one dollar. A little-know, veteran-friendly contract clause made this possible. Mills took it all in stride. “Hey whatever it takes to get me to a better opportunity.” The A’s put Brad right back on the hill in the heat of a pennant race.
Mills went 1-1 for Oakland over the next month, was waived and claimed by the Toronto Blue Jays for whom he was originally drafted and pitched. Brad has kept doors open and made friends in the cut-and-dry business of baseball where only the top 700 players make their living as major leaguers.
The Spring Training fight for the 5th spot in the A’s rotation was razor thin with neither Brad or former A’s great Barry Zito winning the gig. They are both in the AAA rotation for the Nashville Sounds. Irony being what it is, Brad and Barry are also both guitar players in a guitar players city.
With so many trips up and back from the majors to AAA, Brad sees the main differences as the low margin for error pitching to big league hitters, crowd sizes and even the feel of the ball.
“At AAA you have a longer leash to work out of trouble.” Mills states. You might get away with a mistake at AAA from time to time but mistakes get hit in the major leagues.” You are treated so well in the majors that is worth all of the fight and struggle to continue to get back.”
Mills is not someone that is bitter in the least about spending the majority of his career at AAA. “I understand and appreciate how fortunate I have been. It is not easy out there and as long as I have a shot to get back to the highest level, I will continue to play.”
Brad’s determination echos some of the same sentiments of former Turks and long-time minor leaguers Clint Robinson and Erik Kratz. Mills and Kratz have been teammates and opponents at AAA. Mills pitched against his former Turks teammate (2005) at Las Vegas when Clint was with Oklahoma City. “Clint was the guy you had to get out in that lineup.”
Being with so many different organizations, Mills is usually approached by a new coach with a new fitness or throwing program. He says that he is normally able to convince them that his routines and goals have kept him healthy, throwing strikes and pitching well enough to keep the major leagues in sight.
Few men do it alone and Brad has the comfort of unwavering support from his family in Mesa, Arizona and his travelling home team of wife Annie and two young, toddler boys Nixon and Noah.
Mills has high praise and appreciation for how well Bob and Teresa Wease have treated him and how the Turks have followed and supported his career.
Maybe someday Brad will get to use his degree in Civil Engineering, where it is all about the measureables. For right now, it is clear the things you can’t measure are what has made Brad Mills successful.
Best wishes to Brad on a great season. Turks Nation has your back.
Dave Norman Turks Play by Play Announcer